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Television sets at the Phillips Exeter Academy were tuned to NBC-TV last week when the network aired its two-hour docudrama treatment of the story of Edmund Perry, the 1985 Exeter honors graduate who was shot and killed by an undercover New York City police officer two weeks after his graduation.

Officials of the New Hampshire boarding school were unsuccessful in their efforts to persuade NBC to make changes in the film, according to David W. Johnson, Exeter's communications director. He said the network aired essentially the same version that school officials had screened, and objected to, last year.

The network aired "Murder Without Motive: The Edmund Perry Story" on Jan. 6, about a year after the film was first screened for television critics.

The movie version of the author Robert Sam Anson's 1987 book, Best Intentions: The Education and Killing of Edmund Perry, had drawn attention when Exeter officials voiced objections to NBC that it depicted a lenient attitude at the school toward student drug and alcohol use and overemphasized the difficulties faced by one black student. (See Education Week, April 3, 1991 .)

Mr. Perry was a promising student from Harlem who attended the nationally prominent school through a scholarship program for minority students.

Based largely on Mr. Anson's conclusions, the film suggested that institutional racism Mr. Perry experienced at Exeter played a role in creating the confrontation with the undercover police officer that cost the young man his life. The officer maintained that Mr. Perry and his older brother had been trying to mug him when he fired his gun in self-defense. A grand jury cleared the officer of wrongdoing.

Exeter will be watching closely to determine if the movie has any impact on how the school is viewed by prospective African-American students, Mr. Johnson said last week.

"The larger concern is the effect of this kind of portrayal not only on the reputation of the school," he said, "but also the school's relationship with a number of programs through which students of color come to the school."

Charles J. O'Malley, who lost his longtime job as the private school liaison in the U.S. Education Department after Lamar Alexander took over as Secretary last year, is now doing consulting work and publishing a private-education newsletter.

Private Education Issues discusses developments in private-school choice and state regulation of nonpublic education, among other topics.

The monthly newsletter is available for $85 a year from Charles J. O'Malley & Associates, 4301 Adrienne Drive, Alexandria, Va. 22309.--M.W.

Vol. 11, Issue 17, Page 15

Published in Print: January 15, 1992, as Private Schools Column
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